Liat Malka has never met Baruch Pozniansky – and she never will. He passed seven years before, a victim of cancer. But looking at pictures of the former Israeli Defense Forces reservist, she makes a resolution to make his dying wish came true. For his mom and dad, it seems that their grief may soon be eased.
For Malka, she now faces a path that will produce obstacles that she has to surmount, doubts that she has to overcome. But the reward that lies at the end will make the difficulties worthwhile. It is a journey that will provoke the deepest questions of life and death, but above all it’s a story of love.
When Malka turns to leave the Netanya, Israel, mall where she met the Poznianskys, she has decided that she will give them the gift that they want. It will be a couple of years before she can deliver, but when she does, both she and they will be delighted with the outcome. And, they are all sure, so would Baruch be.
The story of how Malka fulfilled Baruch Pozniansky’s dying wish begins in the city of Ashkelon in southern Israel, where Malka taught in a kindergarten. Now 35, she had begun to feel that time was running out for her to have the child whom she dearly wanted. But as a single woman, she didn’t know how she would be able to.
Malka started to worry that she was growing too old to become a mother. And now she might even miss out altogether. So she visited her physician to check her fertility. The news she received after tests was shocking – she was actually running low on eggs. And if she waited much longer, motherhood might escape her altogether.
Malka knew that she would have to do something. The kindergarten teacher told the BBC in 2019, “So right away I decided that I would do anything I could to have a baby as soon as possible.” But she shied away from the idea of using donated sperm, since she hoped that her child would grow to know its father. So, she settled into some online research.
In her search, Malka found a YouTube video of a 2009 TV interview with two people who had an interesting quest. Julia and Vlad Pozniansky, a couple from Karmiel in Israel’s north, said that they were fighting a legal action to allow them to use their deceased son’s sperm to have a baby.
Indeed, the Poznianskys had a mother lined up, and it seemed that they would soon have a grandchild. They had greatly loved Baruch, a student of ecology at Haifa’s famous Technion. Aged only 23, he had discovered a mouth wound that had later been confirmed to be cancerous. Before long, his battle with cancer would lead to chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can seriously disrupt the production of sperm, so before Baruch started having it, he froze some of his own semen. But even this treatment couldn’t halt the progress of the cancer, which robbed him of his hair and, eventually, even the ability to speak, with parts of his tongue having to be cut out.
However, while he could still speak, Baruch had something important to say. He dearly wished to leave behind a child if the cancer should take him. And after two years of caring for their son, the Poznianskys did lose him to the illness. At only 25, he passed in November 2008.
Julia Pozniansky didn’t hang around after her son passed – she got straight down to making his wish come true. Indeed, legal eagle Irit Rosenblum, a campaigner in the realm of posthumous reproduction, had helped Baruch set up a “biological will.” But it would take seven years for Julia and Rosenblum to convince the courts that it should be honored.
In the meantime, Julia posted an ad asking for potential moms. The response was astonishing, as hundreds of women came forward. She had a couple of non-negotiable conditions: she was looking for a woman who was Jewish and also happy to have the child after IVF. After all, Baruch had only left a limited supply of sperm.
The search was narrowed down eventually to one woman of Russian ethnicity – the same as the Poznianskys. The potential grandparents and the woman signed a contract and were all set to proceed. However, no sooner had the ink dried on the contract than the would-be mom had devastating news for them. She had met someone new and no longer wanted to go through with the plan.
All was not lost, though, since the Poznianskys were able to find an alternate mother. They had the court papers altered, and the process went ahead with the new woman. But seven rounds of IVF later, the young woman remained unimpregnated. And Julia was left desolate by the continuing failure to have a grandchild.
Meanwhile, the wannabe grandmother revealed the depths of her despair to the BBC in 2019. She said, “I was ready not to live any more. But I decided that if I was going to live I had to return some happiness to my life, and some love.” Indeed, she saw the potential grandchild as somehow a resurrection of Baruch, telling the BBC, “I wanted my son to continue living…”
With the process at such a desperate low, Julia took another course to increase her family. Aged 55, she and Vlad began IVF for themselves, successfully – and she gave birth to a new son. But Baruch’s wish had not been forgotten, and little did the Poznianskys know, but it would soon gain fresh impetus.
That’s because Malka had decided to learn more about the Poznianskys’ situation. Despite the passage of four years, the kindergarten teacher got in touch with the family’s lawyer just in case. She was consequently shocked to find out that the wish remained unfulfilled, and the potential mom had vanished from the scene.
Malka became intrigued by the idea of having a child with a man who had passed. And she explained to the BBC why this notion appealed to her. The teacher said, “Because this way the child can know who their father was, know their history and have grandparents and family.”
So Malka arranged to meet up with the Poznianskys at a mall in Netanya, on Israel’s coast. Smartly turned out in a red coat that made her black hair stand out, she cut an appealing figure to the would-be grandma. Julia told German newspaper Der Spiegel in 2018, “She was slim, educated, beautiful and smart. She was perfect.”
Indeed, it did seem that Julia had made up her mind about Malka right from first meeting. She described her to the BBC, saying, “She was a beautiful young woman.” And perhaps equally as importantly, her character impressed the would-be grandma. Julia said, “I saw that she was a good person.”
For their part, the Poznianskys had something to show this intriguing young woman that they hoped would pique her interest. In her hands, Julia clutched a treasured album of pictures of Baruch. And the photos made an immediate impression on the early childhood educator, provoking strong feelings in her.
That’s because the man whose pictures lay in front of Malka cut such an attractive figure to her. She told the BBC, “Just looking at the pictures I already knew who this person was – such good eyes, the biggest smile you can ever imagine, surrounded with friends and very handsome.”
Furthermore, it was obvious to Malka that Baruch had been a loving son. She said, “And it looked like he was really connected to his parents, because in every picture they are holding hands and hugging. I could see the love and the happiness in his eyes – there was no doubt he was a great person.”
Julia confirmed to Malka what kind of man Baruch had been, describing his love of life and his intelligence. Hearing about his outgoingness, his love of cookery and how he had attracted a circle of good friends, the young woman felt strongly that she wanted to have a child fathered by this man.
So before long the three got down to legal brass tacks. This was no surrogacy for cash – the Poznianskys had not wanted the kind of person who’d do that. But Malka needed the legal right to use the sperm exclusively. And they needed to agree on visitation rights for the grandparents.
That agreement was important because the Poznianskys didn’t only want to make Baruch’s wish come true, but also their own. Indeed, they dearly wanted a grandkid to love. Still, signing the contract was not enough. They had to convince a judge that Baruch’s will should be honored. As part of that process, Julia and Malka had to visit a social worker.
The two women had to convince the social worker that they would be able to handle disagreements. What would happen, for instance, if they couldn’t agree on the child’s name? Julia found the process particularly irksome, but it did have an end. A year later, the court gave its okay, and Malka began her journey to motherhood in earnest.
If Malka expected any great outcomes from the hormone treatment, though, she would be disappointed. The first attempt at IVF only produced a single egg where she had anticipated more. And worse was to come – that egg did not progress into the embryo stage. Heartbroken, Malka steeled herself for round two.
The doctors bumped up the drugs for the second go, hoping they could stimulate Malka’s ovaries into making more eggs. But yet again the process only delivered a single egg. After it had been fertilized, Malka was left with an agonizing wait. She would not know until the next day whether this egg had developed into an embryo.
But this time the process had worked – and the egg could be implanted into Malka’s uterus. But now she faced another wait: it would be a week before she could take a test to find out whether she had become pregnant. When she called the hospital, the reaction bowled her over. She told the BBC, “They were yelling like, ‘Yeah, you’re pregnant!’”
However, Malka found she had mixed emotions after she’d started sharing the happy news. She started to worry about her relationship with the Poznianskys. After all, they barely knew each other, having only had three meetings. And their different backgrounds – hers Moroccan, theirs Russian – began to weigh on her mind. Indeed, the implications of her pregnancy suddenly seemed huge.
On top of that, Malka’s own mom had no idea about what her daughter had done. She told the BBC, “I didn’t want the burden of everyone’s opinions, especially my mum’s, so I had kept it a secret.” But it couldn’t stay a secret anymore, so she had to tell her mom. However, she needn’t have worried – her mother was delighted and Malka even went to live with her.
The pregnant teacher was still racked with uncertainties, however. She dreamt at night about what her baby might look like. And drowning in stress, she felt she had to shut out the grandparents-to-be. This proved a difficult time for Julia, who deeply desired to give support to Malka, but she had to stay away.
Meanwhile, when the pregnancy finally transited into labor, Malka couldn’t even call Julia. On top of that, she urged her own mom not to visit because the baby would be a while. Luckily, her mom ignored her and turned up just in time. Surrounded by her family, the moment that Malka would grant Baruch’s dying wish had come.
When baby Shira came into the world, Malka immediately fell in love. Shira – poetry in Hebrew – looked just like her mom had dreamed, blessed with her dad’s blue eyes. She resembled him so closely that Julia collapsed into tears on seeing her for the first time. Julia told the BBC, “I felt that my heart started to beat again for the first time after my terrible loss.”
Now the photos that attracted Malka to Baruch are displayed in her Ashkelon apartment. Mom and daughter enjoy viewing them and chat about the happy looking guy in the pictures. Her mom is able to show Shira that she and her dad have the same eyes, blue, unlike her mom’s darker hue.
But when Shira suggests that one day her dad might come to their home and say hello, Malka has to tell her that he won’t. As she told Der Spiegel, “For Shira, the question about her father is final. She will never be able to search for him and find him.”
Nevertheless, although Malka sometimes worries about single parenthood, she told the BBC, “Today you have so many kinds of families.” And Shira’s family includes her grandparents, who have become a much bigger part of her life than Malka had ever imagined. She told Der Spiegel, “They’ve become family.” The Malkas even go to visit every weekend, far beyond the contracted times.
And grandma Julia is left with no questions about what Baruch would feel about Shira. She told the BBC that she was sure he’d be happy about how his last wish had been granted. She said, “[Shira is] beautiful, she’s smart, she’s happy, she’s everything you could want from a child. She’s perfect, she’s really perfect.”
Meanwhile, Malka is content that she has done a good thing in bringing Shira into the world. She’s certain that her daughter will come to see that she was deeply desired by her father. The teacher told Undark, “I will teach her that he is somewhere, knowing about her.” Shira is, after all, his dying wish come true.